Wrestling with Giants

I was a little apprehensive going into the Ico & Shadow of the Colossus HD Collection. My caution was born of past experiences with older, critically acclaimed titles that never quite lived up to my lofty expectations, played for the first time years after release (see Shenmue). I had played neither of Fumito Ueda’s games when they were contemporary, and recall being only vaguely aware of Ico, and then quickly forgetting all about it. Shadow of the Colossus completely passed me by in 2006, arriving around the same time as I moved to Japan, where I was PS2-less for the best part of a year.

It was EDGE magazine that came to the rescue in early 2009, with a list of the "100 best games to play today" which featured Ico and SoTC well inside the top 100. Reminded of Ico and introduced to SoTC, I dutifully went out and purchased Japanese copies of both games. I would manage around thirty minutes of each before I grew tired of the grainy visuals, as seen through my old composite cable, and could no longer resist the appeal of my PlayStation 3 in a year full of must-play titles.

I was best pleased when this year's HD collection presented a new opportunity to experience these classics, though I wondered how they would fair with my short attention span and preference for playing brand new games. Ico confirmed my fears as, despite being aesthetically pleasing, I found it to be a bit of a bore, with controls and camerawork that were a constant reminder that this was a ten year old game. There are so many odd choices in its design, most notably the inclusion of an entirely superfluous combat model that serves to constantly interrupt the carefully established atmosphere. For my full thoughts on the combat in Ico, see Spare the Stick, Spoil the Gamer.

Ico is of course not without its charms. I could appreciate its minimalist appeal and visuals, and the simplicity of boy meets girl is endearing as ever; it was a welcome breather in a year where I have played countless dialogue heavy and densely scripted games. There were a number of outstanding moments, but after a while I just wanted it to end so I could stroke my beard and consider its significance in the debate of video games as art and then move onto something else, preferably with more guns and neck snapping.

Shadow of the Colossus, on the other hand, exceeded my expectations. It built upon the qualities of Ico and improved on it in nearly every way, most notably in the gameplay department. The walking puzzles and climbing frames that are the massive colossi are among my most memorable and awe inspiring gaming moments of 2011. One or two of these creatures did fall a little short – the hit-and-miss path to colossus fifteen’s hidden weak spot and looping animations that doom you once caught under foot were extremely frustrating – but by land, water and air it is one of the most memorable collections of foes in any game, before or since.

From the Great Basilisk emerging from his watery slumber to the Trail Drifter gliding above the sands, each colossus brings something new and defining that makes your mammoth task so enjoyable. Despite their expressionless faces and beady eyes, I was impressed by how powerful and emotional the experience of felling each colossus could be. This was compounded by the fact that some of them do not act aggressively towards you until provoked and the realisation that these creatures are dying only to achieve your selfish goal. Pangs of guilt set in when you slaughter the more peaceful giants, as they crumple under their own weight, showered in black blood that gushes from a major artery. These feelings of regret soon disappear, however, when facing the more violent of the colossi, whose butchering I rather enjoyed.

The HD transfer is exceptional, and if you squint hard enough you could almost be playing a current generation title. The lonely, sparse world map manages to feel both desolate yet full of character – an achievement to rival the misty plains and valleys of Final Fantasy IX. The soundtrack works wonders, though the rousing battle theme does begin to grate after falling off the back of the same colossus for the tenth consecutive time. Despite being rather bare, the narrative is thoroughly engaging and even Assassin's Creed would be proud of the magnificently bizarre ending.

Shadow of the Colossus was well worth the wait. I had a sneaking suspicion that I would struggle to fully enjoy Ico, but I never lost hope that SoTC would blow me away, and that is exactly what it did. I just hope that Fumito Ueda's recent exit from Sony does not have a negative effect on his third, full effort - The Last Guardian - which, once it finally comes out , I won’t be waiting five years to play.


  1. Daydream Drooler7 December 2011 at 07:42

    It's funny I never really hear alot of people talk about the combat in ICO but it was actually the reason why I put the game down for almost a full year before coming back to it. there is this one puzzle i just couldnt wrap my head around at the time and I was standing around for hours and every five minutes or so your girl friend would get attacked because you had to leave her behind to solve the puzzle so i just kept running back and forth fighting them off with my stick to the point were I finally let them drag her off and turned off the game. I do love ICO for what it did at the time but that combat was pretty awful.
    Shadow was one of my favorite game on the PS2, I enjoyed that one so much after i beat it I jumped right into a second playthrough, even the colossi most people complain about I enjoyed. I never really had any issues with beating any of them and I dont think I even died. I do remember getting frustrated at the last boss cause I kept falling off. and at points I did get the shit kicked out of me a few times but I was always thinking "ouch, that just happened but now I gota get back on my feet and double time it back to were I was"
    I'm glad you got to play them, HD collection do have more value other than trophies, lol. I know I almost missed SOTC till I finally picked it up more than a year later right before I bought a PS3 and when I did have my PS3 I even found myself popping that bad boy in.
    great blog dude

  2. Pretty much how I felt. Ico I played late and found to be a bit overrated. Has some good puzzles, but the combat is such a bummer on the whole experience. It does have a great look and atmosphere. Level design is good too. It just didn't do a lot for me overall.

    SotC on the other hand is a fantastic experience. Hurt only little by the camera and controls at times, but overall an excellent, original experience. Loved it. Soundtrack is one of the best ever in a game in my mind too. Did you have a favorite colossus? Everyone has a favorite.

  3. @ DaydreamD - Aside from the combat, it was the backtracking and repetition that made ICO difficult for me to really get into.

    This was probably the first HD collection that I was really happy to see. MGS, when its finally released here in the UK, will be the next.

    @ Trip - Great soundtrack.

    As for my favourites, there are a couple that really stood out. The Great Basilisk (#12) was the most impressive, as it partially emerges from that huge reservoir, though the actual fight wasn't particularly special. The battles in the sky were probably my favourites (Delta Phoenix #5 and Trail Drifter #15) as they were the most exciting and gave a great sensation of speed while you are clambering all over them.

    How about yourself?

  4. i bought the collection but still haven't played it. i also own the ps2 versions that i bought off of ebay and haven't even played those. not sure when but i will eventually. i'm glad it has trophies. reading your blogs and looking your psn made me a trophy whore. got 901 total with 5 plats. i'm catching up to you.

    regarding one of your twitter posts. i bought the mgs hd collection limited edition and it only came with an art book. no hideous shirt for me. was that europe only? as for the art book, meh. i love mgs but if i had the chance to return it and just get the regular version i would. it's one of those things you will look at once and never touch again. i basically just flipped through it.

  5. Good luck catching up! I'm trying to keep-up with a couple of friends who have more than me, but it is definitely a losing battle, especially now that I'm playing MW3 online (no trophies) and Skyrim (trophies come very slowly). I like the fun and competitive edge that trophies bring, and they appeal to my collector's mindset, though I'll never let them dictate what I will and won't play.

    Thanks for the heads up on the MGS collection. You are not the first person to warn me off it at that price. We get a Europe only collection, limited to one online retailer, when its finally released in Feb. Don't think the book and an ugly t-shirt are worth the extra £40 ($60+). I'll stick with the regular edition.

  6. SoTC is one of my favorites. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I can recognize what's good about Ico, but SoTC blows it away.

    Trophies have got me too... I've always been the kind of OCD gamer who has to get every collectible and find every kind of secret, but Trophies make it worse. Oh well... It's a part of gaming culture now and hopefully Nintendo gets on board with their next console.

  7. same here. playing mw3 and skyrim really slowed down my pace. i'm going for the plat in skyrim right now. hopefully the game will allow me to get that far. i'm currently at 53% but like you said they come slowly. especially, the thieves guild quests. it went on and on and on. i need to get a move on because i had a goal of 1000 total and 7 plats by jan 1st. also, i just got a new ps3 and i really want to set it up but all the time that will take will really eat into my gaming time.

  8. @ Ceva - I think Nintendo probably will have something along the lines of trophies/achievements. Can't really think of any reason why they wouldn't.
    I like the fact that you can see a real progression between Ico and SOTC, where great ideas became more polished.

    @ superfriar - I doubt I'll platinum Skyrim, as come Xmas I'll have a bunch of new games to get stuck into. Have yet to reach the Thieves guild, as I have been busying myself with the life of a werewolf.


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